I have wanted to write this blog for a while, but didn’t particularly know how to start it. A lot of this writing comes from the knowledge I gained reading Henry Chadwick, Karen Armstrong, and Voltaire. But I still didn’t have a beginning. Today provided me with that beginning.
Today is St Patrick’s day. As I was wandering through Leicester city centre, through swarms of happy people with tall green hats and pints of Guinness, I happened across an Irish pub. Outside the pub were six or seven people dancing to Irish music. Pleasingly, dancing side by side, arm in arm, were two men; An old grey haired Irish man with a huge smile across his face as he swayed, dancing quite comically with a young Muslim man also with a huge smile across his bearded (a bit of a failed attempt at beard growth actually) face whilst his friend filmed the entire scenario on his mobile phone. I was struck by the apparent lack of culture barrier between the two. They were just two men, enjoying themselves.
Meanwhile, in Sheffield, the “English Defence League” plan a march, against Islam. I wondered if this seemingly polarised contrast of values has always existed between the west and Islam? I’d argue that it has. I’d argue that the irrational fear that the contemporary western World seems to have of anything Islamic has been a linear progression since around 900ad.
During the 10th Century, in Al Andalus (Muslim controlled Spain), Islam was becoming amazingly ahead of it’s time. Cordova especially. Under Muslim control, Christians, Jews and Muslims were allowed to live side by side in peace, as long as respect was shown for each other. The Christians and Muslims shared poetry, literature, and philosophy. It was a golden age for the history of Spain. Typical Christian States at this time, were not allowing such integration to exist, because Jews and Muslims were considered heretics, who should be killed rather than accepted.
A Spanish Christian outside of Cordova, whom would undoubtedly be a member of the EDL today, once spoke out against this arrangement, arguing that Cordovan Christians had become corrupted by Islam. Paul Alvaro stated:
“The Christians love to read the poems and the romances of the Arabs. Not to refute them, but to form an elegant Arabic. Alas! All young Christians read and study with enthusiasm the Arab books”
This was an attack on the Christians of Cordova. Christian layman reacted viciously, and started to burn Islamic books and writings in the centre of Cordova. One man in particular, named Perfectus, began to denounce Muhammad publicly. As this began, the Muslim supreme judge known as the Qadi did not pass the death sentence (to insult Christianity, in Christian lands, would have almost certainly resulted in a rather nasty death penalty) because he considered the Christian to have been provoked by both the writings of people like Alvaro, and angry Muslims, so he released Perfectus. But, Perfectus continued attacking the name of Mohammad. And so, without any other option, given the social and historical context of the time, Perfectus was executed by the order of the Qadi under the control of Abd ar-Rahman II. This martyrdom started a fresh wave of anti-Islamic sentiment. Known as the “Cordova Martyrs“, they began to publicly condemn Muslims for being heretics, and did not cease until they were executed. The Muslim court was reluctant to execute people for two reasons. Firstly, they believed it to be wrong to execute people for believing something different. Heresy did not exist for Islam. Disrespect for the Prophet did exist. But heresy, was not a concept Islam understood. Islam expanded at a time of religious plurality in the near East, and so they were used to different beliefs, and did not execute people on that basis. Secondly, they did not want to create a cult surrounding these martyrs. The martyrs were quickly being recognised as soldiers of Christianity. Islam did not provoke nor want a religious war. Christian bishops in Cordova, did not want a religious war. In fact, many Christian bishops and scholars denounced the martyrs as simply out to cause trouble where it was not needed. Slowly, successive Popes started to ban anything slightly Islamic. Koran’s were banned. As was recitation from memory of verses. In contrast, Islamic nations allowed Christian bibles, and Christian debates and discussions, even propaganda from Christians, providing it did not insult Muhammad. Islam, was generations ahead of Christianity both morally and spiritually.
We can then follow that insecurity, and irrational attacking of Islam or anything that was slightly different, almost directly to Pope Urban II and his attacks on Jerusalem. Perhaps this wasn’t necessarily an all out attack against Islam, but more Papal imperialism. Spreading the power of the West. Using Muhammad and the “heretics” as a predicate for war. As if Urban II was protecting Christianity rather than extending his own power, dominance and wealth. The Jews across the Rhine Valley were victims of Pope Urban attempting to kill off any non-Christians across the known World. Islam and Judaism have a lot more in common then they have differences.
For the next couple of centuries, false legends were propogated across Europe surrounding Islam and their Prophet. He was the anti-christ, a child molester (which is rich, coming from Catholicism), out to destroy Christianity, Satan himself.
As the reformation swept through Europe in the 15th and 16th Centuries, it became apparent that Christian ignorance would not go away. Catholics attacked Islam by linking it to Protestantism. They were a breakaway sect of Christianity that denied the Pope’s authority. Similarly, Protestants began attacking Islam by linking it to Catholicism. They worshiped false idols and didn’t believe in faith alone. Even Luther, the hero of the reformation wrote how he considered Europe at risk from being engulfed by Islam; and so the continued irrational fear spread miserably for another century. By 16th Century, the modern historian Norman Daniel points out that Islam was now used as a dirty word. The illiterate European population had no idea what Islam was; had never read the Koran; had never even spoken to a Muslim, but they had all decided through relentless Catholic and Protestant propaganda that Islam was never to be tolerated, purely because Islam held that Jesus was not the chosen Prophet of God.
In fact, it was not until Voltaire wrote his account of Muhammad, as being a great philosopher and Islam as being far more progressive than Christianity, that anything positive from the West was being written about Islam. Francois Rene de Chateaubriand, the French imperialist writer stated that:
“Christianity is the most favourable to freedom.”
And that Islamic nations were:
“A Family without a father”
The Western imperialist powers, were apparently that “father“.
And then rose the British Empire.
The “us VS them” mentality continued. The Empire marched into Muslim lands and proclaimed that those who lived their, were barbarians who needed the British Empire to improve their lives. Algiers, Aden, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya; all came under imperialist power, and we were horrendously evil in our dealings with our new colonies.
The writer Boaudricourt of France at the time, wrote what he had known of the British and French expeditions to Africa and our treatment of Islam:
“About 18,000 trees had been burnt; Women, children and old men had been killed. The unfortunate women particularly excited cupidity by wearing silver ear rings, leg rings, and arm rings. These rings have no catch like French bracelets. To get them off, our soldiers used to cut off their limbs and leave them alive in a mutilated condition”
And we had the nerve to refer to Islam as barbaric?
The fear and violence continues right up until today. George Bush in 2004, run his re-election campaigned claiming to have been sent by God, and that America shouldn’t change commander-in-chief during a war. Christian and Western arrogance propagating fear all over again.
After 9/11, Muslims were viewed with unprecedented fear. As if they were all terrorists who simply “hated our freedom”. The same propaganda that was being used 1000 years ago, was being used again. Screening young muslim men at airports, always telling us that our terrorist threat level was at critical. And yet, the majority of terrorist attacks on U.S soil over the past twenty-years, has been by Christian fanatics. Burnt and bombed abortion clinics, the KKK, the murders of abortion doctors, the Olympic bombing in 1996; all Christian extremists. Why aren’t Christians given the same, if not more level of suspicion given their rather disgraceful past?
It was inevitably that eventually a generation of disenfranchised Islamic lunatics with delusions of hatred and an irrational bloodlust for Americans and the West was going to arise. When one mad man kills a few people, that’s a psychological issue. When a hundreds of men become radicalised, there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. You cannot simply blame Islam for “hating our freedom”. It simply isn’t true. It’s an ignorant, racist concoction used to feed our arrogance because the West, and Christianity, has always had this delusional sense of superiority.
Not today. Today, the Irish man and the Muslim man proved that multiculturalism and tolerance work. The linear progression from the Cordova Martyrs, to the English Defence League and the War on Terror, has not prevailed. It is clear that the anti-Islamic prejudice is slowly dying out, on a scale never before seen. This is a fantastic thing.